Canadian Kids Do Not Have the Skills Needed to be Physically Active

Basketball Team conducts free basketball clinic at USAG Brussels - FMWRC - US Army - 100820Travis’ Note:  Today’s guest post comes from our friend and colleague Dr Meghann Lloyd.  More details on Dr Lloyd and her work can be found at the bottom of this post.

UPDATE:  Meghann and I have published a follow-up post and podcast on this same topic, discussing some of the feedback we received on this post.  The new content can be found here.

First I’d like to thank Travis and Peter for inviting me to participate in their blog, I am honoured to be asked and hope I can contribute something to the ongoing discussions on Obesity Panacea.

It is no secret we have a physical inactivity crisis in Canada, and according to the Active Healthy Kids Canada 2011 Report Card we are a long way from solving this crisis.

There are numerous barriers to physical activity and Travis and Peter consistently portray both the research and the practical considerations of these barriers in Obesity Panacea on a regular basis. These barriers are discussed at great length in both research and the media: the role of the built environment, cost, time, lack of facilities, attraction to television/computer/video games, poor parental modelling, physical education cuts, lack of appropriate sport teams, school policies, sport that is too competitive, lack of equipment, lack of transportation to physical activity pursuits, the list is endless.

The optimistic among us often suggest, despite the perpetual cycle of physical activity bad news (e.g. F grade for Physical Activity 5 years in a row on the AHKC report card), that if we “remove the barriers, the children will be active”. Will they? Do today’s children know “how” to be physically active? Do they actually possess the skills necessary? As part of a study I was conducting recently where 10-12 year old children were asked why they did not engage in physical activity and one little girl wrote “…I can’t play a lot of sports because I don’t know how.”

I would argue that even if we removed all the known barriers to physical activity, there is a significant possibility that the majority of children do not have the skills necessary to engage in physical activity.

The role of motor skills in child development has historically been studied by child psychologists or developmental specialists (e.g. Jean Piaget, Esther Thelen), not scientists interested in physical activity, obesity or public health. Physical education teachers have been teaching these skills (e.g. throwing, catching, hopping, skipping, jumping etc) for decades, but we rarely asked ourselves why it was important to learn how to skip or gallop. Why have we spent decades teaching these skills? The reason is what physical education teachers and coaches have always known-  fundamental motor skills are the foundation for all physical activity.

How many people reading this blog know how to play Cricket? I don’t know how; and consequently, I don’t play Cricket. How about a Canadian example, how many people don’t know how to skate (shocking I know –but there are those of us who don’t)? How many people who don’t know how to skate go skating on a regular basis? What if we applied that argument to…..Catching a ball. How many sports are there that require catching a ball (any ball) in order to participate (football, baseball, rugby, lacrosse, basketball etc)? If a child couldn’t catch a ball, they are not likely to play any of those sports, hence reducing the likelihood of participation in these types of physical activities at all.

This premise is summed up in a concept known as the Activity Deficit Hypothesis. This idea has been more thoroughly studied in children with disabilities or children with movement difficulties; however, I feel it is applicable to the general population of inactive children.  The premise is that in situations requiring movement, people with a higher degree of movement competence (better motor skills) are more likely to have a positive experience and are therefore more likely to engage in these physical activities. People who are less competent in their movement (less skilled) are more likely to experience a negative reaction to this type of situation and are therefore more likely to withdraw from the situation and avoid other contexts where they would have a negative experience, which in turn creates a cycle of inactivity and poor motor skills due to lack of practice (See Bouffard et al (1996), A Test of the Activity Deficit Hypothesis With Children With Movement Difficulties, Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly,13, pages 61-73).

What does the research tell us about the importance of fundamental motor skills? A recent systematic review on the topic found only 21 articles that met their inclusion criteria indicating that there is still a lot of research to be done. However, the results of the systematic review concluded that there is

“…strong evidence for a positive association between FMS [fundamental movement skills] competency and physical activity in children and adolescents. There was also a positive relationship between FMS competency and CRF [cardio-respiratory fitness] and an inverse relationship between FMS competency and weight status” (p. 1020, brackets added).

In other words, based on the best available scientific evidence: better motor skills is related to increased physical activity and physical fitness, and better motor skills are related to healthier body weights.

One might argue – “of course they’re related” – and that is exactly the point. However, I would strongly argue that motor skills are at the foundation, the core, without them children are not going to engage in physical activity which in turn will not improve physical fitness and in turn will have negative consequences for weight status.

I feel the need to talk about active gaming in the context of this blog on motor skills. I know Travis and Peter have both discussed exer-gaming on this blog and I want to reinforce the message that active gaming is not a replacement for skills in the real world; like Travis, I agree that active gaming is better than sitting still doing nothing, however beyond slightly increased energy expenditure and an entertaining dinner party activity I see no other benefits. Skills “practiced” during active gaming (e.g. tennis, boxing, yoga, badminton etc) just do NOT cut it.

For example, an 8 year boy old plays tennis on the Wii for several hours a day for several weeks. Eventually he “wins” the game/reached the highest level, became world champion or something of the sort and he thinks that he’s a great tennis player. One day someone actually invites this boy to go and play tennis outside on a court against a real opponent with a real racquet and a real ball. Imagine that, tennis in real life is nothing like tennis on the Wii….and this child experiences a significant “failure” experience. It is very likely that this child will never plays tennis in the real world again. If this pattern is repeated for all the different active games out there, this child will never want to play a sport outside of his living room. A very important caveat to mention is that I think active gaming is a unique and valuable opportunity, and is likely an untapped resource for children with disabilities and other special populations with mobility limitations. Active gaming can provide an extremely valuable context for motor rehabilitation and increased activity levels. But I feel strongly that active gaming should not replace real world movement experiences.

What’s the take-home message?

If we are going to improve the physical activity levels of Canadian children, we must first improve their motor skills because even if we are able to remove all the barriers to physical activity (in a perfect world); the children still have to actually be “able” to engage in physical activity.

I would remiss if I did not offer strategies for improving motor skills and so to conclude here are some suggestions, although it is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Active play (outdoors preferably) every day, for several hours/day
  • Increased time in physical education (preferably taught by a PE specialist, every day)
  • Enrol children in sports programs that participate in the new Canadian Sport For Life (CS4L) model: specifically Active Start and Fundamentals Programs
  • Provide children early experiences in all environmental contexts: land, water, air, ice
  • Reduce active gaming and increase time spent engaged in real sports

Dr Meghann Lloyd is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Her work has focused on the interaction between motor development and physical activity in children with and without disabilities.

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33 Responses to Canadian Kids Do Not Have the Skills Needed to be Physically Active

  1. Rhodia says:

    When I was in school (1983-1995) I was horrible at all sports, and P.E. classes did not help. Everyone else was always more advanced than me. (Many of them played sports outside of school.) All I remember is humiliation. All eyes on me as I tried to hit the ball, striking out again and again. Besides the problem of physical skills, I also remember not getting much instruction on the rules of the game. It was assumed that we knew how to play. I remember playing softball and soccer and running after balls so that it would look like I was doing something, but not too fast, because I didn’t know what to do if I actually got to the ball before anyone else. I am actually choking up just thinking of all these memories. “Increased time in physical education” would just have meant increased misery.

    And why all the focus on team sports? At the same age as I was miserable in P.E. I also roamed around town on my bicycle and enjoyed my swimming lessons at the local outdoor pool in the summer. These activities were not encouraged or acknowledged in school, and I forgot about them as I grew up. Only now am I discovering my inner athlete, and you can be pretty sure it does not include team sports but rather running, cycling, and swimming, none of which I ever did in school (other than the 100m run for the Canada Fitness badges thing).

  2. Heather says:

    I think what Dr. Lloyd is saying is that had those skills been taught to you in a way that made sense to you, had someone taken the time to teach you those skills so that PE class would not be something that you dreaded, but something that you could enjoy and participate in that you would have been more likely to participate in activities that required those same skills because you would have the base to do so. Had someone taken the time to teach you how to throw a baseball, catch a baseball or kick a soccer ball, maybe your experiences would not have been so awful because those skills carry over to many other activities such as tennis, squash or events in track and field such as javelin or the like, which are individual sports. It really comes down to the fact that those basic skills are not being properly taught to children, and therefore children do not possess the knowledge base to use those skills in every day life or transfer the skills to other activities. I do not think she is saying that riding your bike or swimming are not equivalently important skills, because they absolutely are. She even mentions giving children experiences in all domains “Provide children early experiences in all environmental contexts: land, water, air, ice” because quite frankly most of us know that the two half hour sessions that most children receive for PE every week is not going to cut it.

    Your point is valid, however, because most of us can remember the kids in our gym classes who were not athletically inclined, and it was those kids who were picked last for dodgeball and every other team sport and most likely felt humiliated due to this fact. So maybe the problem is with the system and how physical activity is taught, maybe it is assumed that children already possess the skills by the time they reach school age levels. Maybe that is where the change needs to be then because not every child will have the same opportunities within their families to engage in physical activities before they go to school. The thing is not all parents possess the basic core skills and therefore not all parents will be able to teach those basic core skills to their children, who then go to school and are then unable to utilize those skills in PE classes. I think that the system needs to change in order to give children the opportunity to learn the necessary skills before they are expected to utilize them.

    • Janis says:

      “Had someone taken the time to teach you how to throw a baseball, catch a baseball or kick a soccer ball, maybe your experiences would not have been so awful because those skills carry over to many other activities such as tennis, squash or events in track and field such as javelin or the like, which are individual sports.”

      I’m sorry, but why is is so damn important that it BE sports? Why NOT just the running and biking, and that’s it? WHY must the sports be the one that’s force-fed?

      • Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP says:

        I think my response to your other comment gets at this, but I just wanted to reiterate that running and biking are just fine (and still require skills that some children need help learning). But a kid who can do nothing but run and bike is very limited in the forms of activity they can engage in.

        Also keep in mind that simply having a catch or kicking around a soccer ball isn’t a “sport” anymore than walking the dog is (and arguably less of a sport than biking). The “sport vs non-sport” dichotomy is more semantics than anything else, since we’re not trying specifically to get people involved in organized sport – we just want them basic skills so that they can choose how they want to be active.

  3. shawmutt says:

    OK, OK, enough with the guilt trip! I’ve been meaning to get my 2 and 3-year old out and play some catch, and as soon as it stops raining around here that’s what I’m going to do.

    Trying to find even an hour a day is challenging with my wife and I working full-time jobs. Thankfully they do get a ton of exercise activities daily through day care.

  4. Matt says:

    There are definitely issues where children attracted to computer games spend long periods being relatively inactive. However, if monitored and moderated, I believe that gaming can have a positive effect on a child’s development.

    There are technologies being developed now that allow adult-child co-operative gameplay, that enables the child to not only engage in more physically active games, but to develop their motor skills and learn through co-ordinating their efforts with the adult. Here’s one great example (a ‘fun’ video admittedly – but one which the Games for Health Foundation uses to make a good point)

    • Travis says:

      Thanks Matt,

      I skimmed the video quickly this morning, and was wondering if you could clarify which motor skills the child would be learning by playing these games? It looks like the movements were mainly the artificial ones like moving around on a DDR dance mat… as Meghann argued in the post, I’m not convinced that those types of skills transfer to non-gaming settings in any meaningful way.


      • Matt says:

        Hi Travis,

        The game-share technology featured in the video was at a fairly experimental stage but I personally feel the concept has potential. Using a variety of control methods to interact with a game could have a number of physical benefits. I would suggest that the dance mat for instance could help a child develop their sense of balance and spatial awareness. Of course, I agree there’s no substitute for real-world ‘training’ but I think it could have a place as a useful complimentary activity.


  5. I. says:

    I think that, for me, “Increased time in physical education (preferably taught by a PE specialist, every day)” would have put me off sports for life. I hated PE classes in school, I was never any good at it. But like Rhodia, I did enjoy swimming and biking in my free time, and I enjoyed playing outside with friends. – So it wasn’t that I hated being active, the PE classes just were a horrible “fit” for me.

    IMO, the problem with PE classes is that teachers just can’t give individual students the guidance they need to help them improve whatever skills they’re lacking, so if you start out being bad at it, you’ll probably still be just as bad at the end of the school year.

    I still consider myself to be very untalented for all things physical, but I’ve been practicing a martial art for 2 years now and it’s improved my life in so many ways. There are 2 big factors that make all the difference, in my experience:

    1) individual guidance: this doesn’t necessarily mean having a personal trainer, but smaller student/instructor ratios help so that the instructor (coach, teacher…) is able to assess the students’ individual needs/ difficulties and act accordingly. Sometimes that may mean giving different students different instructions/ assignments: maybe a kid who can run fast but has a hard time catching a ball needs to improve coordination, while a teammate who can catch the ball with no problems but can’t throw it very far needs to improve his strength.

    2) Focusing on improving yourself vs. winning. In PE, it was always about winning a game or about how well you did in races, etc. That was very demotivating to someone like myself who wasn’t good, so I usually just felt bad for doing poorly when we played in teams.
    Now I’m still not great, but I know how much I’ve improved since I started. I may take small steps, but I now know that I can get better if I work hard. I’ll never be the best, but I know I can be my best.

    My point is, children who have poor physical skills probably don’t enjoy PE already, and increasing PE hours won’t help. The best way to encourage someone (child or adult) to be more active is to help them find something they truly enjoy and that makes them feel better with / about themselves. For that, first you need to improve the quality of the physical education. When that happens, when exercise becomes enjoyable instead of torture, the “quantity” will follow naturally.

    • Travis says:

      I think your quality vs quantity argument makes sense. Here in Canada, unfortunately, we have neither at the moment. In elementary school PE is almost exclusively taught by general classroom teachers now (which is a change even from when I was in elementary school in the 1990’s), who often have little or no PE background or training. If the quality of the instruction is poor then I agree that simply having more of it won’t solve the problem (and I would agree that traditionally that quality has been quite poor, if the goal is to promote fundamental movement skills and lifelong physical activity, which I think it should be).

      Add to that the extremely low quantity of PE (1-2 times per week for most schools that I know of), and it’s not a surprise that it’s not being terribly effective.

      • Stephen Bosch says:

        It’s worse, even, than that: schools are now mothballing the climbing apparatus in gyms, because administrators are terrified kids will fall and hurt themselves and the board will end up facing a lawsuit. This has exactly the opposite effect: it is negatively affecting motor development, making kids afraid of their own bodies, and in this way actually increases the chance that a child will fall and injure him or herself.

        “No climbing higher than head height” is the motto at one elementary school I visited recently. Yet children naturally want to climb higher because that’s what humans are evolved to do.

        We are getting in the way of what is natural for us and has always been natural for us. It should be no mystery that we’re getting sicker and sicker in the process.

  6. Janis says:

    I really have to take exception to this assertion that people “don’t have the skills necessary” to be physically active. This is the problem with having naive natural jocks write these articles. If people have two legs or can at least get themselves around, they can be physically active, no rules or how-to necessary.

    Jocks just have got to get something through their heads: for a great number of people, GYM CLASS SUCKED ROCKS because we got beaten up and humiliated in it. No, YOUR love of basketball will never, never, never, never translate to ME loving it. I don’t give a damn how eloquently you wax about it. I don’t want to do it and never will.

    So, do I need those “skills” to be active? Am I doomed to be sedentary and unhealthy because I won’t participate in team sports — which is apparently the be-all and end-all of physical activity? NO. I walk, daily. I know people who run, bike, swim, run up skyscrapers. They do these things themselves.

    What’s needed is not to get that little girl who “doesn’t know how” and force-feed her The Rules on how to be active according to some damn artificial game. It’s to reassure her that she doesn’t NEED to play baseball or soccer or expose herself to something she hates in order to be physically active and enjoy moving her muscles and getting her rump out of the chair.

    Screw PE. What’s needed is not to reform the image of PE in the minds of people. It’s to throw PE in the dump where it belongs and to tell people, “If you hated gym class and don’t know the rules to sports, it doesn’t matter. You can still get up and move and enjoy being outside in the sunlight and with blue sky over your head. The jocks who love to WIN and LOSE don’t own physical activity, no matter how much they think they do.”

    I’m sorry to get this snarky, but this whole attitude that you can only be physically active or athletic if you do it By The Rules — which by the way include WINNING and LOSING — just frosts me. F*** sports, okay? Athleticism does not equal sports! Jeez.

    • Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP says:

      Two brief comments:

      1. I edited out the all-caps F-bomb in your comment to keep things safe for work.

      2. Your ad hominem attacks and assumptions about “jocks” don’t really have much to do with the arguments Meghann is putting forward in her post. Motor skills *are* related to physical activity levels, which is likely due to the fact that meeting a certain basic threshold for motor skills gives a person more opportunities to be active. If we want kids to be active then it makes sense then to give them those skills. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the fact that PE class has traditionally been pretty poor quality doesn’t mean that motor skills are a jock conspiracy.

      I should mention that the goal of all this is *not* just to get everyone involved in organized team sports. Even basic recreational and individual activities like kicking around a soccer ball, roller blading, biking, skiing, running require fundamental motor skills. And if a kid doesn’t have those skills, they are dramatically limited in the ways they can be physically active. This issue isn’t about forcing gym class or team sports down kids’ throats, it’s about giving them the skills necessary to participate in whatever types of physical activity they want down the road.


  7. Cynthia says:

    I agree with the commenters complaining about the focus on sports “skills”. Teaching skills is not the answer, encouraging play and movement of any kind is the answer. Human beings evolved being active, not sitting. It is natural for us to move – I think we just have to figure out a way to stop killing that natural inclination. There is far too much “structure” in kids’ play and lives already, lets not add to it by “teaching” them cricket or soccer skills. I played volleyball in high school – the serving and spiking drills killed my love of the game. It is far better to encourage kids to walk and run and ride their bikes, to provide lots of time everyday for movement. Encourage activities like walking, running, biking etc. that they’re far more likely to do as adults than soccer, baseball and hockey is a much better approach. Organized sports are scheduled and half-complicated for adults with busy lives. Riding your bike to work or choosing to live close enough to work to walk are pretty simple in comparison. Instill those kind of values instead of teaching someone how to use a cricket bat or dribble a basketball. I think if we just give them the time to run around, spin, jump, throw, catch etc. without judgement or marks, children would be more likely to want to pick up a bat or tie on some skates and give something new a try – no pressure or humiliation if they’re not so good at it, its just about having fun.
    I think the problem with physical activity is similar to the lack of creativity and initiative in many children. Ken Robinson’s TED talk might give us all some insight into the bigger problem – it isn’t just about sports skills:

    • Travis says:

      I guess I’m still just not clear on how this would play out. We know from numerous studies that kids who lack motor skills are less likely to be physically active (not just in sports, but overall activity levels). As I said before, cycling still requires motor skills, and some kids don’t naturally have those skills (for example, check out this comment on a previous cycling post, from an individual who does not bike specifically because they do not feel confident in their cycling skills). So if we just throw a kid at a bike and tell them to have at ‘er, some will succeed, but many will not. That seems far from ideal.

      I would bet that almost everyone had help from someone – a parent, a sibling, a friend, etc – when they were learning to ride a bike. That is still a form of instruction, and it is important and useful. If kids are not getting that support and instruction at home, why is it wrong to provide it at school?

      I can understand why people would have strong feelings about the way that instruction is delivered (I agree with you that there’s no need to be judging kids on their motor skills… I don’t think anyone would argue that we should), but I still don’t understand why people would be against instruction per se. As a society we value things like reading and math skills, because we know that people benefit and have more options when they have these basic skills. We know that kids are more likely to be active if they have basic motor skills – why shouldn’t we help them to achieve these skills?

      • Cynthia says:

        I guess I’m saying that being healthy and active isn’t about sports skills. I’d argue that if we’re going to teach our children something that will keep them active and healthy into adulthood, we should teach them to live their lives in a more active way. I’m saying that teaching someone basketball as a child probably won’t translate into a healthy, basketball playing adult. I do think that teaching someone that choosing to walk and to live in a pedestrian friendly community where biking and walking are both possible and appealing would have a much more long term positive outcome than teaching specific sports skills. I’m saying that a more holistic approach might be better – if the desired outcome is active, healthy people. If the desired outcome is people with better sports skills then I guess I’m wrong.

  8. jaz says:

    not sure…

  9. Luan Jancaster says:

    I may be skinny even after lifting heavy weights for years, but, sometimes thats just how things work out.

  10. R E G says:

    Thank you to Janis for your eloquent defence of non-sports activity. It’s very telling that Travis, clearly trying to understand, just does not get it.

    I have a now-adult child, who seemed to have an aptitude for running from a young age. She looked more efficient than other children when she ran. She would just run for the sheer joy of learning how far and how fast she could go.

    I tried to encourage her to join the school track team. Surely the standard cannot be that high in grade 3! Well yes it was. Only one child per grade can participate. I was vindicated 8 years later when she participated in a Terry Fox run and the cross-country coach tried to recruit her. ( The answer was no. Never. Under no circumstances. Childhood humiliations live forever in our memories.)

    Tying physical fitness to sports, or even sports skills, makes at least 50 % of all children losers. You may think being cut from a team is not the end of the world, but I’m pretty sure you qualified for some team somewhere. Unless you plan to give one on one, private lessons, for these “sports skills” , you are publicly, repeatedly, humiliating children in front of their peers. You are also assuming that the abilities that athletic children have CAN be taught. Can every child paint, play the violin, write poetry or sing? No.

    The only activity I ever enjoyed in phys ed class was folk dancing. If you learned the pattern and kept moving it was good enough. The rest of the class was sheer hell.

    Schools have a vested interest in training athletes. My eyes were opened in a big way when I was an elementary school volunteer. The vast majority of phys ed is devoted to the 10% or so of students who can potentially populate a winning team. The rest are cannon fodder; the kids they go out on the field and shoot against.

    So, in conclusion, Janis and I and many more, are hoping for a day when the school curriculum can celebrate fitness instead of winning.

    Here’s a project for all you academics.

    When, and more importantly WHY did girls stop skipping? Drive by a playground at recess and they are all huddled in their cliques gossiping. Back in the last century I spent an hour a day hopping and running and singing to the beat of a skipping rope. No winners or losers, no need to pick teams.

    • Theo Bromine says:

      Back in the last century I spent an hour a day hopping and running and singing to the beat of a skipping rope. No winners or losers, no need to pick teams.

      In the last century, I was an avid cyclist , and loved climbing (hills, trees, whatever), and a competent canoeist and ok swimmer. However, in addition to being inept at pretty much everything in school phys ed, I was also incompetent at skipping. Though there weren’t usually teams, someone like me who tripped too often spoiled the rhythm for everyone else, so I was rarely allowed to join the skipping groups.

      I dropped school phys ed as quickly as I could (after grade 9). Later, I went to a university that required every student (unless disabled) to take a minimum of 4 quarters of phys ed (or play a school sport), as well as either passing a swimming test (100 yards, any combination of strokes, no time limits) or taking swimming lessons. The activities offered included field sports, racquet sports, exercise classes, sailing, etc. The criteria for passing were attendance and participation, period. Most people have a hard time guessing which university had (and still has) this requirement, as it’s not generally known for its athletic accomplishments, but rather famous for being the home of nerds and geeks: MIT.

  11. Rhodia says:

    Also, I don’t think using “qualified physical educators” rather than classroom teachers is any help. In my experience the type of person who decides to teach P.E. is exactly the type of person who was good at sports when they were young and does not even notice some students’ misery because they are focused on how the game is going.

    And my worst P.E. years were in junior high where there were specialized P.E. teachers. That’s when this “picking teams” nonsense really got going. (Often in elementary school when the classroom teacher was in charge we just did silly things like play with that parachute thing, or “duck duck goose” or “what time is it Mr. Wolf”.)

    Most adults don’t play team sports anyway. The adults I know who are active (which is a minority) do things like hiking, cycling, walking, running, skiing, rollerblading, swimming, golf, or just work out in gyms. I do know one who does curling (a team sport which isn’t taught in schools anyway). So I don’t see the long term benefit of the focus on learning to dribble or serve or what have you.

    • Travis says:

      Hi Rhodia,

      I’ve mentioned this in a few other responses in this thread so I won’t go into details, but I just wanted to point out that hiking, cycling, running, skiing, rollerblading, swimming, and golf all require motor skills that have to be learned. And without those motor skills, people are far less likely to engage in those sports. That is the key message that Meghann and I were trying to get across with this post, not that we need everyone engaging in organized sports.

      Meghann and I are planning a follow-up post and/or podcast to discuss some of the feedback we’ve had in this thread, it will hopefully be up next week.

      • Theo Bromine says:

        As a phys ed hater, spouse of a phys ed hater, and parent of 2 phys ed haters, here are my suggestions:

        1) split phys ed into 2 tracks – fitness and sports. If you don’t take sports, taking fitness is mandatory
        2) the fitness course is not graded, but a minimum level of attendance/participation is required
        3) the fitness course provides physical instruction in a variety of activities such as hiking, cycling, etc, but not details of sports scoring or strategies

  12. R E G says:

    Travis – the motor skills required for cycling or hiking may need to be learned but they are not judged in the same way that sports skills are. As a child I spent about a week “learning” to cycle before I became confident enough to ride on the road. No one cared. When I was (not) learning to hit a baseball it was another story.

    Forty-five years later I still cycle as much as the weather permits. No power on earth will make me join a team sport.

    • Rhodia says:

      Good point. When you’re “learning” a team sport and your skill level is below that of your team-mates, they get annoyed at you. Learning to ride a bike was an individual effort on my own, with a little bit of assistance from parents. Learning to swim was in group lessons where the other kids were at the same level. No big deal.

      “No power on earth will make me join a team sport.”
      Amen to that.

  13. Pingback: Canadian Kids Do Not Have the Skills Needed to be Physically Active At All…Not Just in Sports | Obesity Panacea

  14. Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP says:

    We’ve just published a follow-up post and podcast on this topic, which can be found here.

  15. Rob says:

    Interesting comments/discussion so far. I felt like a lot of people’s emotional responses to their memories of negative childhood school PE class memories were obscuring understanding the basic point of the blog post about teaching/learning basic core motor skills. As mentioned, this can be the foundation for solo activities or team sports. It also doesn’t have to just be taught in school – it can be self discovered, self taught as well and then parents, other family, friends, teachers, etc can add their experience/support where needed.

    It shouldn’t be surprising that PE class was the way it was as competition between peers/goal oriented learning/preparing for a career is the main structure/function of school in general in our society. PE just embodied the physical aspect of that attempt to instill a spirit of competition/winning.

    My two cents is that the lack of physical activity in children is at least partly related to: increase and spread of technology based entertainment, perceived
    increase in crime/danger that keeps children from freely roaming outdoors, increased urbanization/lack of access to nature. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small suburb in the 80’s with a large forest nearby where my brothers and I could disappear each day for hours – running, climbing, scrambling, etc. and which I feel like really contributed to developing basic motor skills and a love for being outdoors in general. For that, I’m eternally grateful.

    • H says:

      I agree that choosing to live in more walkable communities increases the chance that people will engage more often in forms of active transportation, but what about those children or adults who don’t get the choice in where they live? ie; low income communities? Maybe their communities aren’t safe to walk or bike in, or don’t offer accessbiel transit? You make the arguement about “SPORT SKILLS” but the article in question wasn’t talking about sport skills it was talking about basic human movement skills that can form a wonderful base for children to use in any which way they want.

      Travis, your responses are very eloquently put, and in most cases I probably would not have chosen to be so nice about it.

      Basic movement skills can include balance, if children use balance skills in PE class, while they are being taught how to this translates to bike use, running, diving, yoga, in-line skating, walking even.. Jocks are not the problem here, yes sometimes the messages are unclear, but bashing jocks isn’t the answer either.

      • H says:

        I posted the previous comment on the wrong thread, my apologies.
        Rob, I wanted to comment and say ‘finally!’ – people get so emotional about the athlete/non-athlete stuff in regards to PE. Some people have obivously had miserable experiences from PE (which I am aware happen – I coach many beginner classes in a variety of settings) but letting that tarnish your view on your children learning basic human movement skills is a bit deplorable. I hated the dance portion of PE, I am not a good dancer, but I have much respect for those who can dance because I appreciate the time, work and movement skill that goes into learning and maintaining those skills. Maybe appreciating the fact that physical activity in any form is necessary and that having the basic skills to do so would be an asset, is the key. Also, I think that learning all basic movement skills, make for a well-rounded person who can then choose for themselves which physical activities they prefer.
        Thanks for your refreshing post Rob.

  16. Steve Lusk says:

    I am not sure why a program like CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) was not sited in your article. CATCH is a school and after school health program that combines physical activity and nutrition lessons in non-competitive games. Everyone gets to play all the time in a way that encourages cooperative team building. CATCH is the only evidence based program that has proven to fight childhood obesity. The program also offers adapted ideas for all of its activities. The after school component, CATCH Kids Club has been sited as best practice by Public Health Canada and research is posted on their web portal.
    It seems to me that this ongoing dialogue on childhood obesity is more about proving the existance of an epidemic rather than implementing programs that work.
    More information on the program can be found on the University of Texas website,

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for that, Steve. Personally I wasn’t aware of CATCH until you brought it up. This post didn’t discuss obesity, so I assume that was a more global comment?


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